Before this spring, Benjamin Hary had not taught a course in contemporary
Israeli society on Emorys campus. He picked a heckuva time
Beginning early this year with a string of Palestinian suicide
bombings, followed by armed incursions into the occupied territories
by the Israeli Defense Force, contemporary Israeli society has been
on the front page of world newspapers for the whole semester, and
suddenly Hary (whose scholarly expertise is in Near Eastern language
and dialect) was manning the lectern for perhaps the most topical
class on campus.
But at least, apart from the occasional exchange of rhetorical artillery,
teaching this class is less dangerous than it would be had it taken
place where Hary usually teaches contemporary Israeli politicsin
Israel, where the associate professor of Middle Eastern studies
directs an in-depth, six-week summer immersion in the culture.
That, in some ways, is the beauty of the class, that its
so much connected to real life, Hary said of this semesters
MES/JS 370, which met for three hours each Tuesday afternoon. You
have to be connected to whats going on.
And many of the students were connected, often personally, to both
sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hary said in-class debates
always remained intellectual and civil, but from just one visit,
it was clear many of the students felt quite passionately about
whats going in the Middle East.
What I find good is that I think Ive managed to create
a safe environment, where every opinionas long as it is not
coupled with hatred or something like thatis welcomed,
Hary said. So if we have someone who really feels strongly
that the Israeli government action is correct and good and should
continue, then they have a place. If the other side feels the Israeli
government is not doing the right thing, they have a place to say
that, as well.
To help students put the course in its proper context, Hary began
by handing out a political timeline of the land on which rests the
modern state of Israel, from biblical times until the February 2001
election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Among the required reading
were Jerusalem Report (a semimonthly news magazine) and the online
English version of HaAretz Daily. Needless to say, students also
were expected to follow mainstream media for the latest on the violence
that has racked the region in recent months.
But the course was about more than just the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict; Hary also examined the role of women in Israeli society;
the ideological divisions among Jews themselves; political structures,
immigration and many of the kinds of issues pertinent to any society,
Israeli or otherwise.
Everything fits together, said Jordan Rosenblum, a
graduate student in Jewish studies and Harys teaching assistant
for the class. There are [historical] issues the students
learned at the beginning of the semester that are still being argued
about today, so they need to reinterpret it as new information.